Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Safer access to the bird hides

Thanks to a great team effort over a few days we have put weld mesh on the boardwalks to the two hides at Standlake and also at Rushy Common. Colin's magic shed supplied us with a pump and with much scrubbing most of the moss, accumulated over several years, was cleared off. The swans, as usual, were not at all worried by all the comings and goings

 Not quite sure how we would have managed without Nigel's expert supervison -"Left a bit Jim, now mind your thumb".

Once fully trained Chris was able to tackle the Rushy Common bird hide all on his own (well almost, there was a field crew and back up team behind the camera of course).

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

More kingfishers

Having decided to do more major works, luckily, I met Keith Clack who told me that the kingfishers were sitting on our minimalist posts quite happily. So we just decided to clear the view to the dead branches and leave well alone. Happy kingfisher viewing! If you get any good photos please let me have some for the blog and other publicity.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Not all about scything

Scything continues to be a favourite activity with the Thursday volunteers. We have allocated a small area at Rushy Commmon to see if we can create a wildflower area by cutting and removing the cuttings and spreading some wildflower seeds and planting a few suitable plants. There are, of course, masses of wild flowers around the rest of the site but the aim of this patch is to make an area that is attractive to bees and other invertebrates and is visible to visitors to the bird hide.
 Chris photographed the only surviving viper's-bugloss plant from our initial planting last year. Red clover, common fleabane, selfheal, purple loosestrife and water mint have already established naturally, providing a good food source for bees, hoverflies and butterflies. We are also going to clear some bare patches and spread some locally sourced seed of yellow rattle, knapweed etc but as you can see below the grass looks very vigorous so it might be a long term project to get the less dominant wild flowers established.

We then went on to create kingfisher perches as requested by several of the birdwatchers. But when we looked on the far side of the hide, where a kingfisher has been seen visiting quite often, we found a network of branches that looked much more interesting than our simple single  branch support. We decided that we were not satisfied with our efforts and this is a work in progress so we are going to have another go this week. Watch this space....and hopefully get good views of the kingfishers in the months to come.

Chris also provided a useful resting place for a very friendly ruddy darter dragonfly.

Pond dippers' delight

You just never know what you might catch when you go pond dipping but with Angus and Sarah on hand there was plenty to find and identify. But Bob preferred to stay in the water he didn't want to sit in  a tray.
Most of us had never seen a water stick insect before
and there were far too many snails-anyone got the garlic butter?
On land there were interesting discoveries to be made as well, including the very rare six-legged umbrella beetle.

And gooey spotty stuff. And masses of  gungey green algae.
 ' Oooh its all slimey and gooey  let me touch it,' said Mabel aged 3.
Our very informal study of Tar Lakes showed that there is a great variety of species already established in the lake. A proper scientific survey will be taking place soon in the Rushy Common lake. The Freshwater Habitats Trust have been carrying out regular surveys which show that Rushy Common is one of the most biodiverse lakes in the valley. It is rated as High Value for its plant richness and rarity attributes and of High or Very High value for macroinvertebrates attributes. The forthcoming survey will show if it has reached maximum diversity or whether new species continue to colonise.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Scythes proving useful in different locations.

At the beginning of August Jim and I were glad to welcome Jack along to help us cut and rake this mini patch of grassland at Standlake Church for the secind year running; as even though we started at 8 a.m it was getting quite hot by the time we  finished at 10.00.
It was lovely to see how some good areas of knapweed are developing and Alison said there had been a few cowslips in the spring. We also found a toad and spiders with their nest webs in the grass and bushes full of miniscule baby spiders.

Today Jack and I were joined by Nancy in clearing the bridleway from the A415 to the Windrush Path at Cokethorpe. The scythes worked really well on  nettles and himalayan balsam to clear the path up to the bridge over the Windrush in a very short time.

Nancy's first try at scything

Jack keeping his scythe sharp

Jack and Nancy carried on to help me clear the footpath at Hardwick that was really overgrown with hawthorn and nettles.

Many hands make light work and an hour later the footpath was walkable again.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

When you find something new

Have you ever heard of round leaved fluellen? Or seen it?
I certainly hadn't then there it was creeping across the ground when I was surveying the field round the lake at Standlake Common to see how last year's green hay spreading has worked. 

It is hard to say at the moment how successful the green hay spreading has been but there is a vast amount of yellow rattle with a lot of tufted vetch, common knapweed, scentless mayweed and black medick. Hopefully, next spring there will be a cowslip or two and a green winged orchid. Thanks to the trainee botanists for their help as we start to build up a record of species on the site. Thanks also to the tutors at the Ashmolean Natural History Society for their excellent introduction to botanical identification and showing us how much it requuires patience and methodical working through in often minute detail. Maybe next year we will be able to tell our hawkbits from our hawk's-beards more easily and can tackle the grasses as well.

Monday, 21 July 2014

August Tuesdays at Rushy Common Pond dipping and bird watching

Following the great enthusiasm shown in May I am running Tuesday afternoon sessions throughout August at Rushy Common and Tar Lakes. 2-5pm.
The bird hide will be open and we will have pond dipping, nature trail and bug hunts as well.
Please book if you can think that far ahead or just come along. Email: or call 01865 815426

Work experience

Thanks to Will and Ben from Henry Box school the hide at Standlake is looking a bit cleaner and the view out is clear again. They worked really hard sweeping the boardwalk and the hide and cleaning the windows; I didn't like to tell them that the spiders will take over again very shortly.

They thought they had done most of the work by lunchtime but found that clearing the Windrush Path down towards Newbridge was even harder work especially as the sun had come out with a vengeance.

But they did really well and then said it was the hardest they had ever worked. Thanks also to Angus for bringing them along, and Jack who is going to work with me on a variety of projects over the summer, once his blisters have healed up. I continued my mission to introduce people to scything and they all took to it with great enthusiasm. I think Angus is going to have to buy his own, it is addictive!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Discovering Rushy Common and Tar Lakes.

Thanks to beautiful weather and brilliant volunteers many more children (and their parents) have been drawn into the joys of pond dipping and bug hunting.

Tar Lake was absolutely brimming with toad tadpoles, caddis fly larvae, black fly nymphs, young fish including roach and a pike that looked ferocious even though it was only two inches long, snails and water boatmen. And that was just some of the creatures in the water!

Along the shore and in the bushes were early damselflies, caddis flies, fabulous irridescent dock beetles, mayfly and brimstone and orange tip butterflies.

In the bird hide we could see about thirty common tern putting on their best aerial displays across the lake and setting up their nest sites on the islands. The pair of oystercatchers were working flat out to protect their four chicks from the carrion crow and by the end of the weekend they still have their full complement of four which are growing bigger and stronger and more able to defend themselves every day. A cuckoo was calling for much of the day and a lucky few saw one fly over the lake in the afternoon.

Great thanks to Harry, Jude and Angus for their enthusiasm on the lake side and to Keith and Alison for help in the bird hide. It was a great delight to be able to introduce so many people to the site as many of them had not visited before but will hopefully be back again soon.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Botany with the Ashmolean Natural History Society at Langley's Lane SSSI

We had a perfect day for our first session with the Ashmolean Natural History Society tutors Frances and Susan. After introductions to terminology and the basic naming of parts in the bird hide we took advantage of  the bright spring sunshine to sit in the beautiful meadow of Langley's Lane SSSI. We were surrounded by cowslips, green winged orchids, buttercups and many others not yet in flower.
Having got started on cowslips and three different species of buttercup we thought we had found an easy one with the green winged orchid. It was obviously an orchid and with the help of our hand lenses we could see the outer petals with the green veins hence the name of green winged orchid. But nothing is that easy and like many other species the variation in colour can be quite extensive, and the green winged orchid can vary from an intense purple to almost white.

It helps to be a botanist if you can get close to your subject and we all had to practise the classic botanists working position.


Thanks to Malcolm for some excellent photographs. He will be well placed for creating his own personal file of records which is an important part of becoming a fully fledged botanist. Luckily for several of us artistically challenged enthusiasts it is no longer necessary to draw the plants as digital photographs can do such a good job. But I think there is no replacement for the detailed observation that drawing requires even if the hand doesn't follow the eye very well.

Next month we will be looking at dandelions and other plants that will be in flower then as well as grasses and sedges. I think the tutors started us off very gently on Saturday.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Students clearing tree guards at Dix Pit

There isn't a great deal of work that is suitable for the Abingdon and Witney College gang at this time of year so they were really pleased to be able to do some work on the edge of Dix Pit removing some very old and battered tree guards.

Over the last few months they have become a very good team helping each other and working out the best way to do things together. We found that one of the jobs required was to stand up some smaller trees that were leaning over So a suitable sized rock was found to hammer the stakes back in the ground, ("don't forget the hammer next time Jane")
The students and staff always enjoy their lunch break and as none of them had been to the Devil's Quioits this was the obvious lunch spot. They all enjoyed the sun and space and found the stones and ditches very interesting as they have been studying  the First World War and life in the trenches.

The staff relaxed looking at the cloud formations and finding old bones that were probably mostly rabbit judging from the number running around and the burrows in the banks.
Another session after lunch shifted enough tree guards and stakes to fill my car for a trip to the tip and everyone said they would like to come back another day.  The students are never so happy as when they are outside and their work makes a real difference as it has to the appearance of these little copses of trees.